The People Deserve Beauty

by Luke Leitch VOGUE International 22.02.2022

The audience went demented, the cast danced, and the whistle crew blew at the end of this show. As they did, the adventurous buyer who’d ventured way off schedule to check out Sports Banger turned to me and stated with flat certainty: “The best thing at London Fashion Week.”

In a city awash with hardscrabble designers, Jonny Banger’s Tottenham-based venture is surely amongst the most low-budget of all. What enabled it to present a show as rich as this is the spontaneous philosophy of creative democracy, social enterprise, political criticism, bootleg satire, and hardcore hedonism that combines to draw the like-minded to pitch in. Not unlike the sound systems of the rave culture to which Sports Banger is both adjacent and an overlap, this brand is a big tent—or a muddy field—within which all who contribute to the set list share equal billing.

This season’s show, the first since September 2019, was also the official opening of the new Banger studio space acquired courtesy of Haringey Council that Banger deservedly wangled during the pandemic. Along with his food and drink deliveries to healthcare workers, another Banger pandemic wheeze was his exhibition of Instagram-solicited first wave children’s drawings and letters, “The Covid Letters: A Vital Update” at the Foundling Museum under the co-curation of Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller, who was at the show. The young lady in the crown, Macie, was a local Covid Letter correspondent, a cystic fibrosis sufferer, who acted as Queen of Tottenham.

The collection was called “The People Deserve Beauty” because, Banger said afterwards, “there is not a lot of beauty around right now: more and more of it is being taken away.” The atmosphere was certainly beautiful—during one sudden inter-look lull in the DJ Klose One mixed, Heras Records (Banger’s label) soundtrack, a woman in the audience observed, “This is so good!” to a just-then silenced room, and the entire audience burst into laughter and cheers. Amongst the most impressive and hilarious of these looks was the Paco Rabanne parodying dress and headdress made from a donation of 1,000 Acme Thunderer whistles by Banger and his long-time co-conspirator, Anna Lomax. Considering they persuaded a company named Essex Lasers to cut the connecting plates and hardware for a trifling amount, the fit of the final product was impressively high-decibel. Another fabulous high-low IP-flouting look was Maria Bracher’s cut-out dress and flower headdress; the dress and gloves were cut in counterfeit Chanel shower curtains and the headdress in counterfeit Chanel toilet seat covers that Banger had acquired from a dodgy Manchester supplier.

Charlie McCosker cut and spliced dead stock Sports Banger T-shirts, socks, and balaclavas—including the classic HM Government Truth Twisters tweet shirt—while Emma Brewin delivered the fur crown. Max Allen, much cheerier about life than at the last show, returned with Elliott Adcock to deliver anarchic hand-dyed collages of overdyed Banger print candy colored patches in acid-hermit Saxon shapes including a draped linen shirt dress with a 10-foot train. Other protagonists included Rough Splinters (patched smiley face pieces) and Gareth McConnell, whose image Dream Meadow XIV featured on the satin sheet that backdropped one Cream-reminiscent raver babe bikini. Other elements were upcycled from unused pieces from Banger’s excellent Slazenger collaborations with Sports Direct (including some notable MUD 4 IT festival wellies). The roses tossed into the crowd were made by Jack Hanson from Heras signs that hundreds of Banger followers on social media had pulled from pieces of that company’s industrial fencing and sent him in exchange for free T-shirts.

All of these composite elements, combined and marinated in the power of the bass and and the enthusiasm of the audience, were delivered with—sponsor alert—Lucozade-levels of infectious personal energy by a super-diverse cast of Banger-adjacent characters both old and new. The funniest single moment was probably the Emanuelle Soum choreographed dancers wearing masks depicting the British Prime Minister and his closest Cabinet cohorts as they performed to a completely unrepeatable MC, yet everyone who walked added a specific and vital glimmer to the mosaic kaleidoscope of the whole.

In the fashion arena companies tend to transmit messages of ideology and spirit—messages related to politics, or social injustice and diversity, or sustainability, or art, or other human freedoms and challenges—chiefly in order to amplify and market their operations as manufacturers of clothing. What’s cool about Banger is that here—in a way we haven’t seen properly since maybe Katharine Hamnett—that model is flipped: The clothing is the byproduct that services the message that is its end product. And because the message that Banger’s wider activities personify—the right to rave, to resist bad government, and to be creatively generous—is so right and infectious you can only see it attracting more fellow-travelers who want to be there, see that, and buy the t-shirt. Especially now he’s built a new website. Vibe-wise, Banger is the best.